Pulverising foes with grace, breathtakingly linking together combos; thrill and self-admiration are felt as giant foes are grained down to a meaty pulp. However, when the opposite is performed, enemies disintegrate in a slower fashion with hints of the possible grace attainable; the difficulty at times becoming nearly overwhelming.
This seems to be the usual feeling for someone who has begun to scratch the surface of Bayonetta 2 – but where is the skill without the challenge? Developed by Platinum Games, who are known for the dramatic action of the original Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, the team seem to crave the creation of a certain type of game: one which focuses on gameplay, style and finesse; on being a well-polished action game. With Bayonetta 2, Platinum seem to have hit their stride, strutting their stuff suavely in front of their onlookers.
Of course, to the side there is a plot woven together within the high-paced action. The story involves a superbly sexy, witty, sophisticated witch named Bayonetta, who embarks on a quest to save her fellow Wiccan Jeanne (who’s also quite the upper class citizen) from the depths of Inferno. Along with this task, the story is gradually fleshed out as we learn more about the origins and nature of the world.
In order to accomplish her goals, Bayonetta must face foes known as angels from Paradiso, and demons from Inferno, who lend to the pseudo-religious tone throughout the game. Their grandiosity matches the tone of the story, building up in unison with difficult gameplay as the game reaches its dramatic climax. It’s an outlandish, bizarre, light-hearted story, but it also, insanely enough at times, tugs at the heart strings.
I say insanely, partly because of the obvious over-sexualisation of the leading female character. This is something that reflects the seedy undertone in video games that passionate gamers – who insist that the medium is an art form – try to hide away from at times. In contrast however, there’s a quick realisation that her appearance actually fits in with the world, and that she is actually, in her own way, a strong independent woman. She doesn’t need a man. She doesn’t need to sit down and cry while waiting for someone to rescue her. Due to her confidence – as well as her constant joking – when she does appear emotional, empathy and sadness are evoked, which is where the surprise comes from.
In a way it’s exactly what a game like this needs: a strong, small story which complements the action; for it’s always the action which is the main focus point. Even in the opening, you’re introduced into the game facing up against giant, gold, mechanical angels while an unknown voice unfurls a story in the background. There’s no immediate tutorial. Foes immediately leap out and you’re given a chance to experiment with varying modes of attack. You’ve been thrown in the deep end and hand-holding is at a minimum.
You create your own organic fighting style, free of the patronizing fertilizer that is so rampant in other games. Bayonetta 2 seems to hold this philosophy close to heart and it feels blatantly obvious that this was Platinum’s goal: to construct an intuitive fighting system with easy to learn basics, yet difficult (or what seems at times, impossible) to master.
As you grasp blindly and quickly search for forms of attack, you soon realise the button to kick, the button to punch, to jump, and to dodge – and begin to scrape the importance of each of these movements together as you narrowly vault over one giant shimmering sword after another. Dodging movements in particular is of the utmost importance as correct timing triggers slow motion, known as Witch Time, during which there’s a chance to counter and string together lengthy combos whilst taking a chunk out of a target’s health.
Along with Witch Time, another useful technique in Bayonetta’s arsenal is the Umbran Climax, which can be triggered when the magic bar is full. This technique showcases some flashy, powerful moves. Every attack becomes stronger, dealing serious damage. Normal kicks become giant-heeled boots, punches become flurries that look like meteors, and powerful combos become giant, hell-like beasts crunching on the bodies of foes. There’s a great satisfaction upon slaughtering a string of foes with Umbran Climax, while dodging their deadly attacks using Witch Time. Bayonetta 2 creates combat that not only requires skill, but which has a taste for the stylish.
The enemies you must face range from normal height to enormous, and this matches the combat which is, as well as being unforgivable, a steep plummet of excitement in which one can never be completely sure what’s going to happen next. One moment Bayonetta is surfing up a twister-chasing, giant, angelic metal dragon, and the next she’s flying through the sky with sprouted wings facing down the same fiendish serpent.
This surprising change of pace is generally met with much joy, as getting to grips with the new scenario actually seems fun, reflecting that sense of intuitiveness that’s present throughout the game. For even in the most unusual and alien of circumstances, many basic controls tend to stay the same: punch, kick, shoot, and dodge, allowing you to adapt quickly to the situation. The intuitiveness that was at the beginning is still very much there at the end – only by then you’re relishing swimming in the deep end.
With the difficulty, incentive and excitement in place right up until after the game’s completion, the depth of combat can at any point be delved into even further. Customizations are available for many aspects of combat with new techniques and weapons creating many ways to alter your combat strategy. One intriguing aspect is the actual weapons themselves. These can be equipped in sets on Bayonetta’s feet and hands, and when a new option becomes available, you have the chance to change things around. A lot of time can be spent in the practice mode testing combos with new weapons, trying to learn as much as you can; however, this mode actually does little good when you actually reach the heart of a battle, as little seems to have been retained when you’re facing down some sort of giant machination, or even when squaring off against human-sized foes. It’s unusual in that when facing a normal-sized individual, that pressure is truly felt – similarly to facing Vergil in Devil May Cry 3. Those combos really need to be experimented with before you use them against a boss, lest you wish to face a quick demise.
In case I haven’t emphasised it enough, there’s a gargantuan amount of techniques available that can seem overwhelming, perhaps leading you to begin flaying aimlessly at buttons. But fear not, as it’s even possible to win many battles using these tactics. However, when each battle is concluded, you’ll begin to feel a great sense of shame once your method of combat has been analysed. Those flimsy, clumsy attacks will be scrutinized at the end and you may be bestowed with a shameful Stone rating. In fact, you may be bestowed with it many times and eventually breathe a sigh of relief when you work up to a Bronze or Silver rating. Perhaps embarrassment coupled with perseverance will lead you to the ultimate feeling of true pride when you’re awarded a Gold or Platinum rating (oh, I see what you did there, developers!). Perhaps you will feel like standing atop your seating arrangement thanking your family, dog/cat, or significant other for reaching such a great achievement. Personally, after achieving my first gold for a level, an inward ‘Finally’ was the summit of my excitement. Perhaps the battle had tired me too much.
It would be nice to say more about the fights in Bayonetta but I’m not prone to spoilers, and I am not going to analyse every magnificent twist and turn in the story. I should also mention the music which, while not always noteworthy, does often compliment the combat well. There’s also another mode, ‘Tag Climax’, where you can play with a friend while searching for a way to achieve a higher score.
There are many reasons to come back to Bayonetta 2 – whether it be reaching for that greater score, pumping up the difficulty, searching for collectibles, or simply for the fun of reliving some of those epic final battles. The game deserves every drop of praise that it has been given and hopefully will receive much more. It makes the Wii U a must-buy console, edging Nintendo boldly ahead of their rivals who are still in that phase of cross-generation. However, it does seem likely that just as Resident Evil 4 and Killer 7 jumped ship, there will come a time for Bayonetta 2 to follow suit. For now, Nintendo have a strong contender for game of the year. Let’s just hope it sells well enough to spawn another sequel; or, at the very least, some DLC with more must-have content.